Northern Ireland news

SDLP call for single anti-Brexit candidate to take on Ian Paisley in North Antrim

There has been speculation that Ian Paisley could unilaterally step aside ahead of a recall petition. Picture by Matt Bohill/Pacemaker

THE SDLP is calling for a single 'Brexit alliance' candidate to contest the North Antrim by-election if shamed MP Ian Paisley is forced to resign.

Amid speculation the DUP man could unilaterally step aside ahead of a recall petition being rolled out across his constituency, the SDLP's Claire Hanna said Mr Paisley needs to resign immediately "because it’s the right thing to do".

The House of Commons yesterday confirmed that if the North Antrim MP resigns and is returned to Westminster in a subsequent by-election, the suspension of 30 sitting days imposed earlier this week would not automatically carry over.

His re-election would force Westminster's standards committee to begin afresh the process of bringing sanctions against Mr Paisley, a House of Commons spokesman told The Irish News.

The DUP MP received an unprecedented suspension from Westminster on Monday for failing to register two luxury family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government, for which he later lobbied.

Over the coming days, the north's chief electoral officer will begin earmarking up to 10 venues across Mr Paisley's constituency, where those on the electoral register can sign a petition calling for his resignation.

If 10 per cent of his constituents – around 7,500 people – put down their names, then he must step aside ahead of a by-election.

Claire Hanna called for a 'unity Remain' candidate to contest North Antrim. Picture by Hugh Russell

The DUP has suspended Mr Paisley from the party and launched what it describes as a "further investigation" into the MP's conduct.

It is unclear whether he has the full backing of his nine colleagues at Westminster. When he made a speech in the House of Commons last week apologising for his failure to register the luxury holidays, only four other DUP MPs were present.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told The Irish News yesterday that he was absent because he was "at the Farnborough Air Show with Invest NI".

The Lagan Valley MP would not be drawn on whether the DUP was split over how Mr Paisley should be dealt with internally, after East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said at the weekend he should face no additional sanctions.

Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan said the party needed to clarify whether it was probing additional matters relating to Mr Paisley's conduct in office.

He said the facts of the shamed MP's relationship with the Sri Lankan regime were "already well established".

"Does the DUP have additional information? If so, that should be investigated by the proper authorities," he said.

Mr McGuigan also said the DUP needed to clarify whether it would be endorsing Mr Paisley as a candidate if there was a by-election in North Antrim.

DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to comment yesterday beyond the party's official statements, saying people were entitled to due process.

The SDLP called on all parties opposed to Brexit to agree a candidate for North Antrim who "would defend the majority of those in the north who voted to remain".

Ms Hanna said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood had written to the other Stormont party leaders urging a 'Brexit alliance'.

In his letter, the Foyle MLA said the north needed a remain voice at Westminster that "will vote to stop borders in Ireland and economic devastation".

Ms Hanna said: “It's imperative now that all of us work to ensure that a by-election is called and it is won by an MP that will represent the interests of people in Northern Ireland at this critical time.

"That means only an MP who will go to Westminster and vote against the Tory Brexit can take the seat."

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